Mar 20, 2012

Posted by in Creative Writing | 0 Comments

What’s In a Name?

For a project in my writing class, I had to go through my wallet, purse or junk drawer and find something to write about. I pulled out an old prayer card with St. Elizabeth Seton on it. She has always been someone I have admired.

Like my siblings, my given name is short. Five letters. Simple. Karen. The last name? Not so simple and prone to many mispronunciations. Zappavigna. Try spelling that in kindergarten! Dad was all Italian. His parents gifted him with the names Remo Eugene Anthony Zappavigna. Quite a mouthful. To make our lives easier, my parents decided that middle names were not necessary. He once told me that it was hard enough to have that last name without the extra burden of middle names. Mom agreed. I grew up realizing that I was the only one of my friends who had to answer these questions over and over again: What is your middle name? Followed by You don’t have a middle name?

How I longed for a middle name! Something elegant like Elizabeth. Karen Elizabeth sounded so much nicer than just plain old Karen. I named dolls Elizabeth. When I played pretend with my gal pals, I was the one named Elizabeth. I envied my friends whose parents named them Elizabeth.

I so wished I could change my name to Elizabeth because even the meaning of Elizabeth, which is “consecrated to God”, seemed so much nicer than the one word meaning of Karen, which is “pure”. Why, even the meaning of Karen seemed too simple, too short.

Along came time for me to receive the sacrament of Confirmation and I finally got my wish. I got to pick my Confirmation name. It was entirely up to me. In the Catholic tradition, the Confirmation name had to be that of a saint, one that I admired. Part of the responsibility of choosing a Confirmation name also meant that I had to give good reason why I wanted this name.

Off I went to look up St. Elizabeth. Who knew there was more than one? I decided on Elizabeth Ann Seton because she was the first American born woman canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. I also remembered when she was canonized because it was about 2 ½ years before I was confirmed.

I would be Karen Elizabeth for real. Finally, that long desired name was mine.

I had forgotten some of the details of St. Elizabeth’s life, along with my longing for a middle name, until I cleaned out my wallet the other day and came across a prayer card with her likeness on one side and a prayer on the reverse. That card has lived in my wallet for years, since my grandmother gave it to me. The card refers to Elizabeth being blessed with the “gifts of grace as a wife and mother, educator and foundress.” As I read the prayer card today, I realized that I share these roles. Who knew that in my quest to be named Elizabeth I would choose a life similar to the very Elizabeth I so admired.


Sidenote: Over the years, I have come to like my given name of Karen. However, when I married, I did keep my maiden name of Zappavigna as my middle name. It does amuse me when people ponder over what the middle initial “Z” stands for in my name. 🙂

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